Fantasy football championship week is here, so let SI.com's Michael Beller help you make some of the most crucial start and sit decisions.
We’ve reached the end of the fantasy football season and the final Start 'Em or Sit 'Em column of the year. Thank you for letting us help you set your lineups for the last four months, and hopefully we were right more often than not along the way.
Those of you reading this are likely getting ready for your league’s championships. Of course, not all of your leaguemates are quite so lucky. Some of them may not have thought about fantasy football since Thanksgiving, which is a shame. The fantasy football season is short enough as it is, even if you make it all the way to the championship, and a large swath of the fantasy community only gets to enjoy it for 13 weeks. Our final playoff fix will rectify that, giving those who miss the playoffs a few extra weeks of life, as well as something for which to play.
Every site that runs a commissioner service automatically sets up consolation brackets for the owners who miss the playoffs, and every single one of those goes ignored. Well, what if your league made that consolation bracket worth something? That might grab your attention, right? Especially if it could help you turn things around the following year.
Our last recommended change to the fantasy playoffs allows everyone to enjoy the postseason by granting the winner of the consolation tournament with the first overall pick in the following year’s draft. Theoretically, the owners who missed the playoffs need all the help they can get, so might as well give the consolation winner the right to have any player in the league. Better still, you could let the consolation winner choose their draft slot, thereby giving them complete control over their draft destiny.
Of course, the consolation playoffs cannot go mucking up the big show. To prevent that, owners in the consolation bracket are not allowed to make any free agent acquisitions. If you miss the playoffs, you have to dance with the ugly partners who brought you to the consolation. Sorry, but there’s still a price to play for falling short of the real postseason.
By making the consolation bracket worth something, you guarantee every owner in your league at least an extra week of fantasy football enjoyment. You also further guarantee that everyone stays tuned into your league all the way through the season. Even if you’re not in a keeper league, you have a degree of continuity from year to year, as well. There truly is not a downside to this amendment.
With that, let’s get to the SI.com Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em for Week 16.
The following recommendations are based on 12-team leagues that start one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one RB/WR flex, one tight end and one defense. Starters include the top-12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses and top-24 running backs and receivers. The remaining backs and receivers are considered for the flex position, with the best 12 players making it as starters.
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Titans: Delanie Walker
Walker is dealing with a minor knee injury, but it’s not expected to keep him out on Thursday night. He’s one of the few players worth getting excited about in a game that features two teams with a combined record of 4-24. Walker had eight targets the first time these teams met, though he caught just three for 57 yards. The Jaguars have allowed the ninth-most points to tight ends this season.
Jaguars: Toby Gerhart
Yes, everyone’s favorite failed RB2 is back in the spotlight this week. Gerhart led the Jaguars with 13 carries and 54 yards in their first game after Denard Robinson’s season-ending foot injury, and one week later, he's again relevant in fantasy leagues. The Titans have been terrible against the run this year, allowing the third-most points to running backs and a league-high 1,808 rushing yards. If you’re an owner dealing with an injury to Frank Gore, Rashad Jennings or Ryan Mathews, Gerhart can be your savior in the championship.
Titans: Charlie Whitehurst, Bishop Sankey, Kendall Wright (hand), Nate Washington, Titans DST
You know who would love to sit Whitehurst? The Titans. Unfortunately, he’s the only quarterback they have left. That’s bad news for everyone on the offense, Walker included. Many people expected the Titans to compete for a playoff spot this year, but they’re instead in the running for the top overall pick in the draft. Might they target Marcus Mariota if they get it? Or did Zach Mettenberger do enough to convince them to shore up another position?
Jaguars: Blake Bortles, Storm Johnson, Marqise Lee, Cecil Shorts, Allen Hurns, Clay Harbor, Jaguars DST
We already know the NFL is king, but we’re going to find out just how much sway it holds over sports fans when we see the ratings for a game featuring Bortles and Whitehurst under center for two of the worst teams in the league. It’s borderline remarkable that a game with a pair of two-win teams has a couple of players worth starting in fantasy championships. Not one of those players, however, is tied to the Jaguars’ horrible passing attack.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
Eagles: Mark Sanchez, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Eagles DST
The Eagles’ offense has been a bit stagnant in the last few weeks, so everyone calling for the Nick Foles ouster might want to tap the breaks. However, they still managed to put up 24 points with substandard execution against the Cowboys a week ago. This is a much better matchup, as Washington has allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks and fourth most to receivers. If Sanchez can get on a roll, the entire Philadelphia offense will click the way it is designed to when they can throw the ball effectively.
Redskins: Alfred Morris (groin), DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed
Morris is nursing a minor groin injury that limited him in the second half against the Giants last week. This Saturday game is a thorn in the side of his owners, because he could use an extra 24 hours to rest, but he isn’t expected to sit. Philadelphia has struggled mightily against the pass all season, allowing the third-most points to quarterbacks and most points to receivers. This could be a better game than many are expecting, given that the Eagles are laying nine points on the road.
Eagles: Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz
Matthews’ production has slowed considerably after a mid-season surge when Sanchez first took over as the starter. His game-by-game yardage totals have dropped from 138 to 107, 77, 51 and 23 before literally bottoming out at zero last week. What’s more, Matthews didn’t even have a target. This may be a good matchup for him, but you should be able to find a better option for your championship matchup.
Redskins: Robert Griffin, Silas Redd, Pierre Garcon, Niles Paul, Redskins DST
Griffin is actually my first quarterback left out of the starting group this week. If you’ve been riding, say, Jay Cutler or Philip Rivers, this season, I can see a scenario in which Griffin is your man for Week 16. The Eagles have been about as pass-friendly as possible this season, surrendering nine 20-point games to quarterbacks, including Kirk Cousins, Colin Kaepernick, Austin Davis, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Zach Mettenberger. Redd is a long-range option if Morris is out.
San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers
Chargers: Branden Oliver, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates
I was tempted to only have Gates in this group, but Oliver and Floyd both make it as deeper flex plays. Gates is the only reliable player in the offense against one of the better defenses in the league. Oliver and Floyd each have a chance to step up after injuries to Ryan Mathews and Keenan Allen. I wouldn’t feel great about either one being in my lineup in the championship, but they’re easily two of the three best players at Philip Rivers’ disposal this week.
49ers: Frank Gore (concussion), 49ers DST
For now, it looks like Gore will be able to play this week. Carlos Hyde is looking iffy with back and knee injuries, and that could mean plenty of touches for the veteran in what will likely be his penultimate home game with the 49ers. The Chargers present him with a neutral matchup, but if the San Francisco defense can shut down San Diego's offense -- which is well within reason -- Gore could see a heavy workload in the second half. Don’t let Rivers’ gaudy stats against bad defenses sway you from playing the 49ers’ unit this week. They are a very strong start in this spot.
Chargers: Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews (ankle), Keenan Allen (collarbone), Eddie Royal, Ladarius Green, Chargers DST
I’ve mentioned this before, but a huge share of Rivers’ production has come against four of the worst pass defenses he has played this year. In five games against the Jets, Jaguars, Raiders and Ravens, he has thrown for 8.6 yards per attempt, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. Against all other opponents, he’s getting 6.9 yards per attempt, with 14 touchdowns and 11 picks. There’s no way you can start Rivers against the San Francisco defense. Mathews looks likely to sit again this week, and even if he plays, he cannot be trusted. He would, however, knock Oliver from the starting ranks.
49ers: Colin Kaepernick, Carlos Hyde (back, knee), Alfonso Smith, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Steve Johnson, Vernon Davis
Smith is really the lone interesting player listed above. If Gore and Hyde are both out, which remains a possibility, Smith would almost certainly shoulder the load for the Niners out of the backfield. If that is the case, he’d be a decent long-range play. He hasn’t had much run this year, but this is a game that could very well play to the favor of the San Francisco rushing attack. Smith is a necessary handcuff for any Gore owner who would be starting the veteran if he is able to play despite suffering a concussion last week.
Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins
I may be in the minority in labeling Asiata a sit this week, but we’ll get to that in a second. In short, I’m not rolling the dice on the Minnesota offense against a better-than-average defense this week.
Dolphins: Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace, Dolphins DST
Miller struggled to get anything going against the Patriots last week, but he was also phased out in the second half when that game got out of hand. The Vikings have allowed the ninth-most points to running backs this season. That helps to make Miller a strong RB2 play this week. Wallace had his best game of the year a week ago, catching five passes for 104 yards and a score. The Vikings have put up league-average numbers against receivers, and while Wallace could see a healthy dose of CB Xavier Rhodes on Sunday, he’s still worth playing as a flex in most 12-team formats.
Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Asiata, Ben Tate, Greg Jennings, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph, Vikings DST
Asiata's value is entirely tied up in short-yardage touchdowns, and I’m simply not betting on that with anyone, especially someone in the Minnesota offense. He's rushed for 70 yards just twice this season, and he needed 20 carries to do so in one of those games. He's had at least 10 carries in four of the last five weeks. His high-yardage mark in those games is 54, and he needed to get the ball 19 times to get there. If you can’t do better, you’re probably not alive in your league anymore. Johnson is the one Viking I can see playing, but you’d have to be desperate at the position, or starting at least four wide receivers.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay
From a fantasy standpoint, Tannehill has been bad in his last three games. He has 808 yards, two touchdowns and three picks in that timeframe, and two of those games were against poor pass defenses in the Jets and Ravens. The Vikings have allowed the 10th-fewest points to quarterbacks this year. Tannehill had a nice run in the middle of the season that may have played a part in helping his owners reach this stage, but he cannot be trusted during championship week.
Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans
Ravens: Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, Ravens DST
Forsett was as hot as any running back heading into the fantasy playoffs, ripping off three straight 100-yard games with a total of four touchdowns. He has gone cold since, running for 119 yards and one score combined in the last two weeks. You’ve made it this far with him as a staple in your lineup, and he is a strong option in a game the Ravens could dominate, given Houston’s quarterback situation. Either Steve Smith or Torrey Smith should be able to put up WR2 numbers, and the bet here is on the former, with the latter still not at 100 percent because of a knee injury. The Baltimore defense could end up swinging a number of leagues after what it did last week and the great matchup in the championship.
Texans: Arian Foster, DeAndre Hopkins, Texans DST
This is a very dangerous spot for the Houston offense, with Thad Lewis or Case Keenum getting the start. You’re starting Foster no matter what, and the Texans should be leaning on him even more than they usually do. While I have Hopkins listed as a starter, I do not have him qualifying as a WR2 this week. The quarterback situation has pushed him down to a flex, and I wouldn’t balk at someone sitting him down this week. It’s a big ask to put part of your championship dreams in the hands of Lewis or Keenum.
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Bernard Pierce, Torrey Smith (knee), Owen Daniels
Smith was able to play through his knee injury for the second straight game, but he got just three targets. After establishing WR2 consistency over 10 weeks, he has abandoned his owners right on the doorstep of a championship. It’s awfully hard to trust him at this point. Flacco put up a few monster performances in Week 13 and Week 14, but it was rushing touchdowns that really put him over the top in each of those games. He’s an easy play in two-quarterback leagues, and an easy bench in one-quarterback leagues.
Texans: Thad Lewis, Case Keenum, Alfred Blue, Andre Johnson, Garrett Graham
Johnson is the only player above who is even on the fantasy radar, and he had drifted into borderline-at-best territory even when Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Mallett were healthy. He’s nowhere near the starting discussion with Lewis or Keenum under center.
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
Lions: Matthew Stafford, Joique Bell, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Lions DST
The Lions had a banner day when these teams met back on Thanksgiving. Stafford threw for 390 yards and two scores. Johnson caught both of those touchdowns, as well as nine other passes and had 146 yards. Tate caught eight balls for 89 yards, while Bell ran it 23 times for 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The defense, meanwhile, had three sacks and two interceptions. Both of the Bears’ touchdowns came with the benefit of a short field. Expect the same level of domination from the team headed to the playoffs over the team headed for the dysfunction championship title.
Bears: Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett
The nightmare season in Chicago is mercifully winding down, but somehow Jeffery has found a way to be productive for most of the year. He has 77 receptions for 1,027 yards and nine touchdowns, making him the 11th-ranked receiver in standard-scoring leagues. The Bears looked terrible in their first game against the Lions, but Jeffery still had nine catches for 71 yards and two scores in that game. In the highly likely chance of garbage time, Jeffery could come up huge again. He has been a garbage-time hero frequently this year, most recently last week, when he caught a touchdown pass in the waning seconds against the Saints.
Lions: Reggie Bush, Eric Ebron
After a huge first year in Detroit, Bush has become an afterthought in the offense. Meanwhile, Bell has established himself as a legit RB1. The Lions may have already had Johnson and Tate, but remember that they drafted Ebron over Odell Beckham. And it’s not as though they didn’t have any tight ends, either.
Bears: Jimmy Clausen, Marquess Wilson, Bears DST
The Bears have officially hit rock bottom, benching Jay Cutler for Jimmy Clausen. Cutler would not have been a strong play this week if he were starting, and Clausen is even worse, at least for fantasy purposes. You don’t want to be on board this sinking ship when it goes down in Week 16.
Cleveland Browns at Carolina Panthers
Browns: Isaiah Crowell, Josh Gordon
Crowell had just 17 yards on seven carries last week, but that game got away from the Browns in a hurry. They had only 12 rushing attempts from backs in the 30-0 loss to the Bengals. The good news is that Crowell again got more touches than Terrance West. The Panthers have tightened up against the run in the second half of the season, but they still present Crowell with a good matchup. Gordon has not delivered as expected since returning from suspension, and his owners shouldn’t be banking on him for anything more than WR2 production this week.
Panthers: Jonathan Stewart, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen
Stewart may not have had the game his owners were hoping for last week, but the takeaway for Week 16 is his volume. He had 22 carries in the win over the Buccaneers, and has now had at least 20 totes in each of the last two weeks. The Panthers would be wise to deactivate DeAngelo Williams (hand) again and continue feeding Stewart. Benjamin (eight catches, 104 yards) and Olsen (10 catches, 110 yards) did just fine with Derek Anderson under center. Their owners should have the same level of confidence in them, regardless of whether Anderson or Cam Newton starts this week.
Browns: Johnny Manziel, Terrance West, Andrew Hawkins, Jordan Cameron, Browns DST
One of these days, the fantasy community will learn that just because a guy is fun to cheer for, that doesn’t mean he’s a good play. It wasn’t just that Manziel struggled in his first start as a rookie -- that fate has befallen many quarterbacks better than him. It was that he played as though he were still at College Station. It should come as no surprise that the things that worked in college didn’t work in the NFL. Apparent running lanes closed up on him faster than he expected, and unorthodox throws that went for big plays were either broken up or intercepted. I feel confident saying right now that he won’t be a fantasy factor in 2015, either.
Panthers: Derek Anderson, Cam Newton (back), DeAngelo Williams (hand), Jerricho Cotchery, Philly Brown, Panthers DST
We’ll find out later in the week if Anderson or Newton will start for the Panthers, but the answer only matters in two-quarterback leagues. Anderson would actually be the better play, given how he has looked in his two starts this season, though it has to be stated that both were against the Buccaneers. Newton would be a major risk with his back injury, and in fact would not even be a recommended start in two-quarterback formats. I’ve seen the Panthers defense as a recommended play in some places this week, but I’m not bumping up this bad group based solely on a decent matchup.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
Falcons: Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Roddy White, Julio Jones (hip)
The most noteworthy player above is obviously Jones, who has the power to swing fantasy championships this week. His owners will have to monitor his practice participation, but he’s already looking like a true game-time decision. The good news is that this is an early kickoff, so you won’t have to roll the dice on him. Hopefully you were able to secure Harry Douglas last week, as he would be a strong play if Jones has to sit again. Everyone else is a slam dunk in what should be a great matchup. Ryan, particularly, could make a case to be the playoff MVP depending on how he plays on Sunday.
Saints: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Kenny Stills, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham
The first time these teams played this year, they combined for 71 points and nearly 1,100 yards. So yeah, it isn’t crazy to think that one team could contribute six starters to the fantasy community. Brees, Ingram, Stills and Graham are all obvious. Thomas had five catches for 83 yards last week, and faces a similarly weak defense on Sunday. Colston also had five receptions, with his going for 65 yards and a touchdown. Neither the Falcons, nor the Saints defense, is up to stopping the opposing offense. That should keep both offenses pushing the ball up the field for 60 minutes. You want as many players in this game active as possible.
Falcons: Devonta Freeman, Harry Douglas, Devin Hester, Levine Toilolo, Falcons DST
Douglas’ owners should only be sitting him if Jones is active on Sunday. If Jones is out, Douglas is a very strong play this week. He has been pressed into three starts this season. He caught a touchdown in the first one (then left with an injury), and had at least 115 yards in each of the other two. Douglas is easily a WR2 if Jones’ hip injury keeps him out for another week.
Saints: Khiry Robinson, Saints DST
Moving right along…
Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Packers DST
If you’re a Rodgers owner who made it to your championship game, you dodged one of the biggest playoff bullets in recent memory. He’s ready to make up for the trepidation he caused you last week in a great matchup against the Buccaneers, who have allowed he 11th-most points to quarterbacks this season. So much for that supposed 50-50 split between Lacy and James Starks. The former wasn’t at all bothered by a hip injury last week, running for 97 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. All of these Packers got plenty of fantasy owners to this point, and now look set to carry those same owners to a championship.
Buccaneers: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson
Evans salvaged his game last week with an acrobatic touchdown catch, but he had just two receptions for 13 yards. Jackson caught six of his 10 targets for an even 70 yards in the loss to the Panthers. Both players have cemented themselves as every-week starters, and could show up in a big way this week. The Packers have allowed the ninth-most points to receivers this year. On top of that, the Buccaneers could have to throw for the entire second half if this game unfolds as expected.
Packers: James Starks, Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless
Adams has proven himself the most capable third wide receiver the Packers have had in some time. He shouldn’t be on your radar this week, but he will be a very intriguing player in 2015.
Buccaneers: Josh McCown, Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Louis Murphy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers DST
Hey, a pulse from Martin. Don’t be bluffed by his 96 yards, however. All but four of them came before halftime on the strength of a 63-yard run against the soft Carolina run defense. Tampa Bay could easily be forced to abandon the run in this game, too, making him a fool’s play this week. On the other hand, McCown could be a sneaky play for those of you desperate at the quarterback position, and he’s a must-start in two-quarterback formats. There’s a strong chance he throws the ball 40-plus times on Sunday.
Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
Chiefs: Jamaal Charles (knee, ankle), Travis Kelce
Charles is dealing with a few nagging leg injuries and had to be tested for a concussion last week. He ended up being fine, but the Chiefs wisely held him out for the rest of the game with the result well in hand at that point. It probably didn’t soothe his owners to see Knile Davis score each of the next two times he touched the ball, however. Kelce had five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown last week, and now has consecutive games with double-digit fantasy points. He’ll likely be considered a top-five tight end in 2015.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown
This triumvirate has been huge all season long, and now each member of it has a great chance to be a championship hero. With one more big game, Bell will earn himself playoff MVP honors. In the last two weeks, he has 232 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 122 receiving yards and five touchdowns, translating to a total of 65.2 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. The Chiefs are allowing 5.1 yards per carry to running backs this year. Brown is the most ridiculously consistent receiver in the league and has 19 grabs for 240 yards in the last two weeks combined. He and Roethlisberger will each carve up Kansas City’s secondary on Sunday.
Chiefs: Alex Smith, Knile Davis, Dwayne Bowe, Jason Avant, Chiefs DST
Smith had one of his best games of the season last week, throwing for 297 yards, 9.9 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. He’s a solid play in two-quarterback leagues this week, but his QB1 ship sailed long ago. Of course, not one of his touchdowns went to a wide receiver. We’re really getting close to this actually happening for an entire season. Charles isn’t expected to miss this week’s game, but if his injuries prove too serious for him to play, Davis would be a rock-solid start in championship week.
Steelers: Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Heath Miller, Steelers DST
As quickly as Bryant burst onto the scene, his reversal of fortune has been equally as dramatic. He had 14 catches for 310 yards and seven touchdowns in his first four games. In the four since, he has 10 receptions for 174 yards and one score. Nearly all of that production is tied up in a 94-yard touchdown late in Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnat two weeks ago.
New England Patriots at New York Jets
Patriots: Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Julian Edleman, Brandon LaFell, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
These two teams first met right as the Patriots were snapping out of their early-season funk. Brady threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns in that game. It was Vereen who caught two of the scores, and this, again, sets up as a good matchup for him. Of course, Gronkowski, Edelman and LaFell have each stepped up in the New England passing attack since then, too. The Jets have allowed the fifth-most points to quarterbacks this season. You’re going to be very happy come Sunday afternoon if you are invested in the Patriots’ passing attack.
Jets: Chris Johnson
Chris Ivory may have had a touchdown last week, but it was Johnson who was once again the more effective runner. In the last three weeks, Johnson has 213 yards on 43 carries. Given that he’s also the primary receiver out of the backfield for the Jets, he could see far more snaps than Ivory in the extremely likely event that the Patriots get out to a big lead in this game. Consider Johnson a low-end RB2 for Week 16.
Patriots: LeGarrette Blount, Danny Amendola, Tim Wright
Blount has been very production since signing with the Patriots, but he had just 17 yards on eight carries last week. He bailed himself and his owners out with a short-yardage score, but it’s hard to have much confidence in him this week. The Jets have been relatively tough on the run this season, and we already discussed how well this game sets up for Brady and the air attack. Blount could volume his way to solid production if the Patriots are nursing a comfortable lead, but he remains a mid-tier RB3 this week.
Jets: Geno Smith, Chris Ivory, Eric Decker, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Kerley, Jace Amaro, Jets DST
The argument for Decker goes thusly: The Patriots should destroy the Jets, meaning that Geno Smith is going to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 pass attempts. That’s all well and good, but the fact remains that he’s Geno Smith. The Jets feature one of the worst passing games in the league. Even though Decker had 100 yards last week, you don’t want him in your lineup for the championship game.
New York Giants at St. Louis Rams
Giants: Eli Manning, Andre Williams, Odell Beckham
Manning predictably carved up Washington last week, throwing for 250 yards and three touchdowns in the Giants’ win. Of course, it’s a lot easier to play that well when you have a receiver like Beckham catching your passes. The rookie out of LSU has been the No. 2 receiver in all of fantasy since his first action this year, and is No. 11 overall. He alone makes Manning worth starting this week. Williams is one of the final players to make it into this group as a flex play this week. He should start for the Giants, but hasn’t done much damage despite plenty of opportunity this year. The Rams have allowed the seventh-fewest points to running backs.
Rams: Tre Mason, Jared Cook, Rams DST
Mason flopped against a tough defense last week, running for just 33 yards and losing a fumble on 13 carries. The Giants, however, have allowed the eighth-most points to running backs this year. That fact, combined with Mason’s expected volume, makes him a relatively safe RB2 for Week 16. Cook as had a bit of a roller coaster season, and is one of the many tight ends for which you simply pray for a touchdown. The good news is he has a decent chance of hitting paydirt this week. The Giants have allowed seven touchdowns to tight ends on the season.
Giants: Rashad Jennings (ankle), Rueben Randle, Preston Parker, Larry Donnell, Giants DST
Jennings left last week’s game after just one carry because of his ankle injury. That doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence for this week. Even if he were to go, fantasy owners should look in another direction. Jennings provided a nice return on his draft position for the first half of the season, but he has left his owners wanting due to his injury troubles over the last six weeks, or so.
Rams: Shaun Hill, Benny Cunningham, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin
Bailey has had a relatively consistent presence in the St. Louis offense over the last four weeks. In that time, he has 19 catches for 310 yards and one touchdown, and has had at least 70 yards in three of the four games. Having said that, you shouldn’t have to dig this deep in your championship game, unless you’re in a very deep league. The Giants have allowed the 10th-fewest points to receivers this year.
Buffalo Bills at Oakland Raiders
Bills: Fred Jackson, Sammy Watkins, Bills DST
Out of all the regular “is he a starter or isn’t he” running backs, Jackson is my favorite this week. He has at least 20 carries and 90 total yards in two of the last three games, and gets perhaps the best matchup he has had all season in Week 16. The Raiders have allowed the second-most points to running backs on the year, surrendering 2,183 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns to the position. Watkins had just one reception a week ago, and is actually no better than a flex play in what might be a tougher matchup than expected. The Raiders have allowed the third-fewest points to receivers this year. The Bills are my No. 2 defense this week, trailing only the Seahawks.
Raiders: Latavius Murray
Murray should have had a better game last week, but he got just 12 carries in a plus-matchup with the Chiefs. He turned those carries into 59 yards, but he still came up short of expectations through no fault of his own. He draws a far more imposing matchup this week, as the Bills have allowed the eighth-fewest points to running backs. They have, however, given up big games to C.J. Anderson and Eddie Lacy in the last two weeks.
Bills: Kyle Orton, C.J. Spiller (collarbone), Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, Robert Woods, Scott Chandler
Spiller could very well make his return this week, and that has him on the radar of some desperate fantasy owners. You have to be essentially out of options if you’re looking to him. Not only is he coming off injury, he would be the second back, at best, and didn’t exactly play that well before he got hurt. I can think of 40 running backs I’d rather have in my lineup than Spiller.
Raiders: Derek Carr, Darren McFadden, James Jones, Andre Holmes, Mychal Rivera, Raiders DST
Just like Jared Cook, Rivera is one of those tight ends you plug into your lineup and then pray for the touchdown fairy to visit him. The Bills have completely shut down tight ends this year, allowing just 4.5 fantasy points per game and two touchdowns to the position. They’re one of the few teams that can say they kept Rob Gronkowski from spiking on them, though Gronk did have seven catches for 94 yards. Rivera is about one-fifth of Gronk. Stay away from him this week.
Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys
Colts: Andrew Luck, Boom Herron, T.Y. Hilton (hamstring), Coby Fleener, Dwyane Allen
There seems to be this overriding consensus that Hilton will play through his hamstring injury this week, but I’m not buying that he’s a definite go for Sunday. In reality, the playoff-bound Colts are not going to get a first-round bye -- They’d have to win out and need one of New England or Denver to lose out to move up, which just isn't going to happen. What matters most to the Colts right now is making sure all their principals are healthy heading into the postseason, and Hilton definitely qualifies as one of those. Be very wary if you are a Hilton owner. Back him up with Donte Moncrief or Hakeem Nicks if you can. One of Fleener or Allen has scored in all but four games this year. They could be even more of a factor if Hilton sits.
Cowboys: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray (hand), Dez Bryant
The Murray Watch intensifies with each passing day, as the potential fantasy MVP may not be available to his owners in their championship game. The late kickoff makes it even worse, as his owners may not know his fate until their backup options have already played. If you have Joseph Randle or Lance Dunbar handcuffed to Murray, you’re definitely waiting until the Cowboys make a call on their star back. If you don’t and you have to make a call on benching him before you know whether or not he’s playing, it will be the hardest decision you’ve made all season. My rule of thumb would be that if you have another top-20 option, you go with it, assuming his status is still totally uncertain when you have to make the call. If you don’t, you cross your fingers for Murray.
Colts: Trent Richardson, Reggie Wayne (triceps), Donte Moncrief, Hakeem Nicks, Colts DST
Moncrief and Nicks each have WR3 values if the Colts do decide to rest Hilton this week. If I’m a Hilton owner, I’d handcuff him with Moncrief first. Nicks may have had a touchdown last week, but the rookie out of Ole Miss has had a much more consistent presence in the offense for the last six weeks. If Hilton plays, neither is worthy of a starting spot in Week 16.
Cowboys: Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten, Cowboys DST
In the event that Murray sits this week, Randle and Dunbar will definitely be splitting duties in the backfield, though fantasy owners shouldn't expect more than low-end RB2 production from either. Randle would seem the more obvious handcuff and thus the better play if Murray is out. The Colts have also been susceptible to the run, allowing the seventh-most points to backs this year. If Murray is out, Randle would be the No. 25 running back on my board for the week.
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks DST
If not for a terrible roughing the passer call that the NFL has since said was incorrect, Wilson would have really let his owners down a week ago. He used that extra life to throw for a touchdown pass, but still finished with just 12.4 points. He put up nearly 20 points the first time the Seahawks played the Cardinals this year, and is a low-end QB1 this week. Lynch really struggled against the Cardinals the first time around, running for just 39 yards on 15 carries. You might temper your expectations, but he remains an RB1. The Seahawks defense could be among the high scorers of the week, regardless of position, with the Cardinals starting Ryan Lindley.
Cardinals: Cardinals DST
The Cardinals may be the first 11-3 team in the history of the NFL that doesn’t have one offensive player worth starting in fantasy leagues. Even the defense just barely makes it into the starting class. The Seahawks generally avoid mistakes on offense, but the Cardinals have the sort of personnel that can counteract what Seattle does well.
Seahawks: Doug Baldwin, Paul Richardson, Jermaine Kearse, Tony Moeaki, Luke Willson
You can count the combined number of times any of the players listed above were worth starting this season on one hand. You won’t be adding any fingers to that count this week.
Cardinals: Ryan Lindley, Logan Thomas, Kerwynn Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, John Carlson
Williams was more productive than I expected last week, running for 75 yards on 15 carries and caught two passes for 11 yards. The Rams gave him a good test, but they don’t come at all close to measuring up with the Seahawks. This game could get ugly fast for the Arizona offense. A full week of preparation isn’t going to help Lindley against the Seahawks, regardless of where the game is being played. You don’t want to be at all invested in this offense in your championship game.
Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals
Broncos: Peyton Manning, C.J. Anderson, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas
Manning has not looked at all like himself over the last month. He has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three straight games, and has one touchdown in the last two weeks combined. What’s just as troubling is that he has attempted a paltry 20 passes in each of his last two contests. If you own him, you’re starting him, but don't expect the elite numbers he was putting up through the first 10 weeks of the season. On the flip side, Anderson may have a huge night on Monday going up against a Cincinnati defense that has allowed the fifth-most points to running backs this year.
Bengals: Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green
Hill had a huge game last week, and the rookie out of LSU certainly deserves that attention after running for for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, leading many of his owners into the championship game. At the same time, however, Bernard racked up 103 total yards on 18 touches. Hill may be the lead back, but Bernard is not just some afterthought. Consider Hill a high-end RB2 and Bernard a worthy flex play this week. As for Green, he may have a tough individual matchup with Chris Harris or Aqib Talib, but he’ll take anyone not named Joe Haden.
Broncos: Juwan Thompson, Wes Welker, Broncos DST
The Broncos are the first defense on the outside looking into the starting class of my rankings this week. This isn’t a bad matchup and Andy Dalton can certainly be forced into mistakes. If you’ve been riding the Broncos this year, I think they are a strong option again in Week 16. There are simply 12 units I like better.
Bengals: Andy Dalton, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Jermaine Gresham, Bengals DST
It’s really hard to square Sanu’s disappearance over the last six weeks, especially given that the Cincinnati passing attack hasn’t exactly thrived in that time. Sanu has 15 catches for 130 yards and one touchdown over that span, translating to a little more than three points per game. He obviously cannot be trusted this week, but we can only imagine that the Cincinnati offense, as a whole, would be better served if he had a larger role.
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning, Mark Sanchez
Running Backs: Le’Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Joique Bell, Mark Ingram, C.J. Anderson, Justin Forsett, LeSean McCoy, Jonathan Stewart, Jeremy Hill, Steven Jackson, Lamar Miller, Fred Jackson, Isaiah Crowell, Boom Herron, Latavius Murray, Alfred Morris, DeMarco Murray, Toby Gerhart, Tre Mason, Chris Johnson
Wide Receivers: Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, Calvin Johnson, Randall Cobb, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham, Alshon Jeffery, A.J. Green, Jeremy Maclin, T.Y. Hilton, Mike Evans, Emmanuel Sanders, Kelvin Benjamin, Golden Tate, Josh Gordon, Vincent Jackson, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Kenny Stills, DeSean Jackson, Marques Colston
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, Martellus Bennett, Travis Kelce, Antonio Gates, Coby Fleener, Julius Thomas, Jordan Reed, Jared Cook, Delanie Walker, Dwayne Allen
Defenses: Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers
On the cusp
Quarterbacks: Robert Griffin, Josh McCown
Flex: Harry Douglas (in if Julio Jones is out), Joseph Randle (in if DeMarco Murray is out), LeGarrette Blount, Kerwynn Williams, Chris Ivory, Alfonso Smith (in if Frank Gore is out), Matt Asiata, Jordan Matthews, Marquess Wilson, Andrew Hawkins, Jarvis Landry
Tight Ends: Mychal Rivera, Heath Miller, Jason Witten
Defenses: Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings